BRAND, Germany — It rose on a former Soviet airfield south of Berlin, a towering hangar bigger than a dozen football fields where ambitious entrepreneurs planned to revive Germany’s zeppelin industry. That dream died in 2002 when funding ran out, but the building was reborn as a massive popular tropical theme park, complete with a rainforest, a beach, waterslides and more than 850 hotel beds.
On Monday, a delegation from Texas toured the facility to see if lessons learned by the Germans can be applied to converting the Houston Astrodome, the world’s first multi-purposed domed stadium, which hasn’t been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed since 2009.
“There aren’t too many large structures that have been repurposed like this,” said Bill Merrell, a consulting architect who was part of the delegation from Harris County, which owns the Astrodome property.
The Tropical Island park, which gets more than a million visitors a year, is about two times the size of the Astrodome, and the water slides, beaches, pools and saunas were of little interest to the Texas delegation. But the 55,000 plants there fit with their plan to turn the Astrodome into an indoor park with surrounding green space.
“We’re not planning to re-create this,” said Ed Emmett, Harris County’s highest elected official, looking around the cavernous structure. “But the fact that they could take a building two times the size of the Astrodome and repurpose it like this shows that it can be done.”
In Germany the dome helps shield bathers from the frequent rain and chilly temperatures; in Texas the idea is that it would provide a place away from the heat and humidity of Houston for exercise, picnics or other types of recreation, as well as bigger events.
The future of the Astrodome has been in limbo since voters in 2013 didn’t authorize $217 million in bonds to turn it into a multipurpose events center. While the Astrodome is not in immediate danger of being demolished, local officials have struggled to find an alternative use.